"A Spot of Misrule in the General Order": Representations of Mothering in the Novels of Mrs. Humphry Ward
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Victorian novel, Feminism
Despite her anti-suffrage stance and backlash from modernist writers, Mrs. Humphry Ward's life and works suggest that her vision for women in fact had a feminist orientation and that she was a strong and active advocate for women's self-determination. Ward's vision of empowerment for women is manifested in the novels in her positive representations of subversive mothering, which anticipate current mothering theory both in their conception of the ideal mother and in their depiction of the process by which the capacity for self-identification and independence is passed on from mothers to biological and non-biological daughters.
This project examines the novels' vision of empowerment through maternal thinking by contrasting the "good" mother as constructed in Ward's novels with other contemporary fictional and nonfictional representations of mother figures and by examining representations of less successful mothering in Ward's novels and the ways in which these depictions circumscribe the novels' concept of good mothering. It also explores the phenomenon of other mothering in the novels and its connection to the work of scientists such as Darwin, Freud, William Carpenter, and Boris Sidis, which complicates the notion of "natural" gender roles.
Ward's novels reflect a questioning of the assumption of essential motherhood, which is one of the main tenets of conservatism even today. They also strengthen the evidence that subversive mothering was widespread during the period and suggest that the novel provided both a record of, and a blueprint for, change in this institution.
Pivak, K. (2005). "A Spot of Misrule in the General Order": Representations of Mothering in the Novels of Mrs. Humphry Ward (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1555